When Kitty gets dropped off, I’m folding laundry. She plops down on the couch on her belly and asks me, “What’d you do last night?”
“Nothing. I just stayed home.”
“I organized my closet.” It’s humiliating to say that out loud. Hastily I change the subject. “So did Alicia’s mom make sweet crepes or salty ones?”
“She made both. First we had ham and cheese and then we had Nutella. How come we never have any Nutella?”
“I think maybe because hazelnuts make Margot’s throat itch.”
“Can we get some next time?”
“Sure,” I say. “We’ll just have to eat the whole jar before Margot comes home.”
“No problem,” Kitty says.
“On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you miss Gogo?” I ask her.
Kitty thinks this over. “A six point five,” she says at last.
“Only a six point five?”
“Yeah, I’ve been really busy,” she says, rolling over and kicking her legs up in the air. “I’ve hardly had time to miss Margot. You know, if you got out more, maybe you wouldn’t miss her so much.”
I boomerang a sock at her head and Kitty explodes into a giggle fit. I’m tickling her armpits when Daddy comes in from outside with a stack of mail. “Something came back return to sender for you, Lara Jean,” he says, handing me an envelope.
It’s got my handwriting! I scramble up and snatch it out of his hands. It’s my letter to Kenny from camp. It came back to me!
“Who’s Kenny?” Daddy wants to know.
“Just a boy I met at church camp a long time ago,” I say, tearing the envelope open.
It’s the last day of camp and possibly the last time I will ever see you because we live so far apart. Remember on the second day, I was scared to do archery and you made a joke about minnows and it was so funny I nearly peed my pants?
I stop reading. A joke about minnows? How funny could it have been?
I was really homesick but you made me feel better. I think I might’ve left camp early if it hadn’t been for you, Kenny. So, thank you. Also you’re a really amazing swimmer and I like your laugh. I wish it had been me you kissed at the bonfire last night and not Blaire H.
Take care, Kenny. Have a really good rest of the summer and a really good life.
Love, Lara Jean
I clutch the letter to my chest.
This is the first love letter I ever wrote. I’m glad it came back to me. Though, I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad if Kenny Donati got to know that he helped two people at camp that summer—the kid who almost drowned in the lake and twelve-year-old Lara Jean Song Covey.
WHEN MY DAD HAS A day off, he cooks Korean food. It’s not exactly authentic, and sometimes he just goes to the Korean market and buys ready-made side dishes and marinated meat, but sometimes he’ll call our grandma for a recipe and he’ll try. That’s the thing: Daddy tries. He doesn’t say so, but I know it’s because he doesn’t want us to lose our connection to our Korean side, and food is the only way he knows how to contribute. After Mommy died, he used to try to make us have play dates with other Korean kids, but it always felt awkward and forced. Except I did have a crush on Edward Kim for a minute there. Thank God the crush never escalated into full-on love—or else I’d have written him a letter too, and that’d be just one more person I’d have to avoid.
My dad’s made bo ssam, which is pork shoulder you slice up and then wrap in lettuce. He brined it last night in sugar and salt and it’s been roasting in the oven all day. Kitty and I keep checking on it; it smells so good.
When it’s finally time to eat, my dad has everything laid out on the dining room table so pretty. A silver bowl of butter-lettuce leaves, just washed, with the water beads still clinging to the surface; a cut-glass bowl of kimchi he bought from Whole Foods; a little bowl of pepper paste; soy sauce with scallions and ginger.
My dad’s taking arty pictures of the table. “I’m sending a pic to Margot so she can see,” he says.
“What time is it over there?” I ask him. It’s a cozy day: it’s nearly six o’clock, and I’m still in my pj’s. I’m hugging my knees to me, sitting in the big dining-room chair with the armrests.
“It’s eleven. I’m sure she’s still up,” my dad says, snapping away. “Why don’t you invite Josh over? We’re going to need help finishing all this food.”
“He’s probably busy,” I say quickly. I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to say to him about me and Peter, much less me and him.
“Just try him. He loves Korean food.” Daddy moves the pork shoulder so it’s more centered. “Hurry, before my bo ssam gets cold!”
I pretend to text him on my phone. I feel a tiny bit guilty for lying, but Daddy would understand if he knew all the facts.
“I don’t understand why you kids text when you could just call. You’d get an answer right away instead of waiting for one.”
“You’re so old, Daddy,” I say. I look down at my phone. “Josh can’t come over. Let’s just eat. Kitty! Dinner bell!”
“Co-ming!” Kitty screams from upstairs.
“Well, maybe he’ll come over later and take some leftovers,” Daddy says.
“Daddy, Josh has his own life now. Why would he come over when Margot’s not here? Besides, they’re not even together anymore, remember?”
My dad makes a confused face. “What? They’re not?”
I guess Margot didn’t tell him after all. Though you’d have thought he could have sussed it out for himself when Josh didn’t come with us to the airport to drop Margot off. Why don’t dads know anything? Does he not have eyes and ears? “No, they’re not. And by the way, Margot is at college in Scotland. And my name is Lara Jean.”
“All right, all right, your dad is clueless,” Daddy says. “I get it. No need to rub it in.” He scratches his chin. “Geez, I could have sworn Margot never mentioned anything. . . .”
Kitty comes crashing into the dining room. “Yum yum yum.” She slams into her chair and starts spearing pork onto her plate.
“Kitty, we have to pray first,” my dad says, settling into his chair.
We only ever pray before we eat when we eat in the dining room, and we only ever eat in the dining room when Daddy cooks Korean or on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Mommy used to take us to church when we were little, and after she died, Daddy tried to keep it going, but he has Sunday shifts sometimes and it became less and less.
“Thank you, God, for this food you have blessed us with. Thank you for my beautiful daughters, and please watch over our Margot. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.”
“Amen,” we echo.
“Looks pretty great, right, girls?” My dad is grinning as he assembles a lettuce leaf with pork and rice and kimchi. “Kitty, you know how to do it, right? It’s like a little taco.”
Kitty nods and copies him.
I make my own lettuce-leaf taco and nearly spit it out. The pork is really really salty. So salty I could cry. But I keep chewing, and across the table Kitty’s making a horrible face at me, but I give her a shush look. Daddy hasn’t tried his yet; he’s taking a picture of his plate.
“So good, Daddy,” I say. “It tastes like at the restaurant.”
“Thanks, Lara Jean. It came out just like the picture. I can’t believe how beautiful and crispy the top looks.” My dad finally takes a bite, and then he frowns. “Is this salty to you?”
“Not really,” I say.
He takes another bite. “This tastes really salty to me. Kitty, what do you think?”
Kitty’s chugging water. “No, it tastes good, Daddy.”
I give her a secret thumbs-up.
“Hmm, no, it definitely tastes salty.” He swallows. “I followed the recipe exactly . . . maybe I used the wrong kind of salt for the brine? Lara Jean, taste it again.”
I take a teeny-tiny bite, which I try to hide by putting the lettuce in front of my face. “Mmm.”
“Maybe if I cut more from the center . . .”
My phone buzzes on the table. It’s a text from Josh. Was coming back from a run and saw the light on in the dining room. A totally normal text, as if yesterday never happened.
Josh has some sixth sense of when my dad’s cooking Korean food, because he’ll come sniffing around right when we’re sitting down to eat. He loves Korean food. When my grandma comes to visit, he won’t leave her side. He’ll even watch Korean dramas with her. She cuts him pieces of apple and peels clementines for him like he’s a baby. My grandma likes boys better than girls.
Now that I think of it, all the women in my family really do love Josh. Except for Mommy, who never got to meet him. But I’m sure she’d love him too. She’d love anyone who’s as good to Margot as Josh is, was, to her.
Kitty cranes her neck to look over my shoulder. “Is that Josh? Is he coming over?”
“No!” I set down my phone and it buzzes again. Can I come over?
“It says he wants to come over!”
My dad perks up. “Tell him to come over! I want to get his opinion on this bo ssam.”
“Listen, everyone in this family needs to accept that Josh is no longer a part of it. He and Margot are donzo—” I hesitate. Does Kitty still not know? I can’t remember if it’s still supposed to be a secret. “I mean now that Margot’s at college and they’re long distance . . .”
“I know they’re broken up,” Kitty says, making a lettuce wrap with just rice. “Margot told me over video chat.”
Across the table my dad makes a sad face and stuffs a piece of lettuce in his mouth.
Her mouth full, Kitty continues, “I just don’t see why we can’t still be friends with him. He’s all of our friend. Right, Daddy?”
“Right,” my dad agrees. “And look, relationships are incredibly amorphous. They could get back together. They could stay friends. Who’s to say what will happen in the future? I say we don’t count Josh out just yet.”
We’re finishing up dinner when I get another text from Josh. Never mind, it says.
We are stuck eating that salty pork shoulder for the rest of the weekend. The next morning, my dad makes fried rice and cuts the pork into tiny pieces and says to “think of it like bacon.” For dinner I test that theory by mixing it with Kraft macaroni and cheese, and I end up throwing out the whole batch because it tastes like slop. “If we had a dog . . . ,” Kitty keeps saying. I make a batch of regular macaroni instead.
After dinner I take Sadie the Sweetheart for a walk. That’s what my sisters and I call Sadie; she’s a golden retriever that lives down the street. The Shahs are out of town for the night, so they asked me to feed her and walk her. Normally, Kitty would beg to be the one to do it, but there’s some movie on TV that she’s been waiting to see.
Sadie and I are doing the usual route around our cul-de-sac when Josh jogs up to us in his running clothes. Crouching down to pet Sadie, he says, “So how are things going with Kavinsky?”
Funny you should bring that up, Josh. ’Cause I’ve got my story locked and loaded. Peter and I had a fight via video chat this morning (in case Josh has noticed I haven’t left the house all weekend), and we broke up, and I’m devastated about the whole thing, because I’ve been in constant love with Peter Kavinsky since the seventh grade, but c’est la vie.
“Actually, Peter and I broke up this morning.” I bite my lip and try to look sad. “It’s just, really hard, you know? After I liked him for so long and then finally he likes me back. But it’s just not meant to be. I don’t think he’s over his breakup yet. I think maybe Genevieve still has too strong a hold on him, so there’s no room in his heart for me.”
Josh gives me a funny look. “That’s not what he was saying today at McCalls.”
What in the world was Peter K. doing at a bookstore? He’s not the bookstore type. “What did he say?” I try to sound casual, but my heart is pounding so loudly I’m pretty sure Sadie can hear it.
Josh keeps petting Sadie.
“What did he say?” Now I’m just trying not to sound shrill. “Like, what was said exactly?”
“When I was ringing him up, I asked him when you guys started going out, and he said recently. He said he really liked you.”
What . . .
I must look as shocked as I feel, because Josh straightens up and says, “Yeah, I was kind of surprised too.”
“You were surprised that he would like me?”
“Well, kind of. Kavinsky just isn’t the kind of guy who would date a girl like you.” When I stare back at him, sour and unsmiling, he quickly tries to backtrack. “I mean, because you’re not, you know . . .”
“I’m not what? As pretty as Genevieve?”
“No! That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m trying to say is, you’re like this sweet, innocent girl who likes to be at home with her family, and I don’t know, I guess Kavinsky doesn’t strike me as someone who would be into that.”